Rascals case in brief

In the beginning, in 1989, more than 90 children at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of sexual abuse over a three-year period. It may have all begun with one parent’s complaint about punishment given her child.

Among the alleged perpetrators: the sheriff and mayor. But prosecutors would charge only Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth “Betsy” Kelly, Robert “Bob” Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, Shelley Stone and Dawn Wilson โ€“ the Edenton 7.

Along with sodomy and beatings, allegations included a baby killed with a handgun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire and countless other fantastic incidents involving spaceships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.

By the time prosecutors dropped the last charges in 1997, Little Rascals had become North Carolina’s longest and most costly criminal trial. Prosecutors kept defendants jailed in hopes at least one would turn against their supposed co-conspirators. Remarkably, none did. Another shameful record: Five defendants had to wait longer to face their accusers in court than anyone else in North Carolina history.

Between 1991 and 1997, Ofra Bikel produced three extraordinary episodes on the Little Rascals case for the PBS series “Frontline.” Although “Innocence Lost” did not deter prosecutors, it exposed their tactics and fostered nationwide skepticism and dismay.

With each passing year, the absurdity of the Little Rascals charges has become more obvious. But no admission of error has ever come from prosecutors, police, interviewers or parents. This site is devoted to the issues raised by this case.


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March 25, 2023
Encouraging news, after ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ” ๐ฒ๐ž๐š๐ซ๐ฌ of unspeakable injustice:
On Aug. 28-30, Junior Chandler's lawyers with Duke's Wrongful Convictions Clinic will present evidence of his innocence at a hearing in Boone before Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus.
Earlier, Judge Gavenus denied, without an evidentiary hearing, five of Juniorโ€™s seven claims supporting his innocence, but he ordered the August hearing on the last two:
1) that, during Juniorโ€™s trial in 1987 [background in first comment], prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland, a federal constitutional requirement that they turn over evidence favorable to the defendant and withheld significant evidence demonstrating that Junior did not commit the crimes he was charged with โ€“ and that, in fact, no crimes ever occurred; and
2) that prosecutors allowed their most important witnesses to testify falsely, which Junior's lawyers could not prove without the Brady evidence being withheld.
These are powerful and well documented claims, deeply rooted in this country's promise of fair treatment for all defendants -- a promise that for Junior Chandler has remained broken since 1987.
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3 months ago

Junior Chandler's affect in a Boone courtroom over three days in late August gave few clues that the rest of his life was at stake.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and wrist shackles, Junior sat composed and attentive a few feet in front of Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus as half a dozen lawyers debated the 1987 trial that resulted in consecutive life sentences plus 21 years for the "satanic ritual abuse" of his Madison County day-care bus riders.
Occasionally he would wince at seeing video of a pediatrician or social worker struggling to defend their profoundly flawed testimony of 36 years ago.
I asked Junior what he would've told Judge Gavenus had he himself been called to testify. Here's what he wrote me from Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution:
"My name is Andrew Edward Chandler Jr. I am 66 years old, and I have been been in prison since April 17, 1987, for crimes I am 100% innocent of!
"I have lost many of my family in that time. My son Andy is now 44 years old, son Nathan will be 40 this month. My Mom is 87 years old. My brother Robert, who took care of Mom, passed away on June 12th, the day before her birthday.
"How much time is enough when there was only hearsay evidence that convicted me! I can only Hope and Pray that Justice will finally come my way and I will have the chance to get to know my sons and grandkids and great grandsons one day!"
It's been almost four months since Junior's hearing in Boone -- and 2.5 years since Judge Gavenus received his Motion for Appropriate Relief. Is it too much to expect that Junior be granted that relief before beginning yet another year behind bars?
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3 months ago

Notes from this week's evidentiary hearing in Boone on Junior Chandler's Motion for Appropriate Relief (background in first comment):
"๐’๐ก๐จ๐ฐ ๐Œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐ฒ ๐ฐ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐‰๐ฎ๐ง๐ข๐จ๐ซ ๐๐ข๐."
-- Bus rider being prompted in interview with social worker Linda King (reported in the original transcript, but omitted from the prosecution's trial summary)
"๐“๐ก๐ž๐ฒ ๐ค๐ง๐ž๐ฐ ๐ข๐ญ ๐ฐ๐š๐ฌ ๐š ๐Ÿ๐ซ๐š๐ฎ๐ ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฒ ๐๐ข๐๐ง'๐ญ ๐œ๐จ๐ซ๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐œ๐จ๐ซ๐."
-- Jim Coleman, noting prosecutors' violation of the Brady Rule against withholding evidence
"๐€๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐ญ๐ก๐ข๐ฌ ๐ก๐š๐ฌ ๐›๐ž๐ž๐ง ๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ข๐ ๐š๐ญ๐ž๐ ๐š๐ฅ๐ซ๐ž๐š๐๐ฒ."
-- John Honeycutt, assistant DA for Madison County, dismissing the defense's claims as irrelevant
"๐˜๐จ๐ฎ'๐ฏ๐ž ๐ฅ๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ ๐œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฉ๐š๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐œ๐š๐ฌ๐ž."
-- Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus, scolding the defense for straying beyond the limits of subject matter he had authorized
"๐“๐ก๐ž๐ซ๐ž ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐๐š๐ฒ๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง ๐…๐ž๐›๐ซ๐ฎ๐š๐ซ๐ฒ ๐ญ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐ฐ๐š๐ซ๐ฆ."
-- Social worker King, insisting that one of Junior's bus riders actually could've fallen into the French Broad River, as claimed, without her parents noticing anything amiss when she arrived home.
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3 months ago

Hi Mr. Powell:
"Well, it's rained here all day, so no yard time! We had a good meal for Christmas, roast beef, mashed potatoes, salad, bean salad, chocolate cake for dessert. I watched NFL games on TV. No mail until Thursday....
"We go back to work on Thursday in Maintenance! We're supposed to get a little snow on Friday -- hope we get a good one! [Junior Chandler's favorite job is driving the snow plow.]
"Tell all your family to have a Happy New Year 2024. I believe this is my time to go home. My granddaughter is expecting a boy this week! Wish I could be there, but maybe soon!"
Andrew Edward Chandler Jr.
NC DAC Avery-Mitchell Correctional
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3 months ago

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Todayโ€™s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


โ€˜Mindhunterโ€™ series misguided in choice of role model



Oct. 19, 2017

โ€œThough โ€˜Mindhunterโ€™ at times seems like a fictitious nightmare, the new Netflix series is very much rooted in reality. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is based on real-life FBI agent John E. Douglas, and Dr. Wendy Carrย (played by Anna Torv) is based on Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, a pioneer in the treatment of trauma and abuse victims….

โ€œThe character molded after Burgess helps Ford and his partner legitimize their research with her sociological and science-backed knowledge….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œThe Influential Trailblazer Who Inspired Mindhunter’s Dr. Wendy Carrโ€ย by Kelsey Garcia at Popsugar (Oct. 16)ย 

Yes, itโ€™s just a TV character. But the depiction of Ann Wolbert Burgess as a trustworthy source of โ€œscience-based knowledgeโ€ should appall anyone who recalls her national prominence in igniting the โ€œsatanic ritual abuseโ€ day care panic.

Most grievous for the Little Rascals defendants, it was Burgess who led a three-day conference in Kill Devil Hillsย just months before Bob Kellyโ€™s arrest. The agenda: learning how to spot child molesters operating day-care facilities.

She has never apologized.


‘Parents too trusting’? No, magazine too gullible

May 1, 2013

โ€œFor several years… during which innocent people, many of whom were themselves the parents of young children, were sent to prison, the press by and large went along. โ€˜The horrors may only have started with sodomy, rape, oral copulation, and fondling,โ€™ Newsweek confidently reported of the McMartin allegations in April 1984….

โ€œTime’s account noted that a horse was slaughtered in front of the toddlers to intimidate them into silence, but the magazine neglected to ask how this messy procedure was accomplished without detection in a busy preschool in the middle of town, where parents and teachers came and went throughout the day. โ€˜Parents,โ€™ Time chided, โ€˜were too trusting, assuming that separation anxiety was the reason their children cried when dropped off at school.โ€

โ€œBy the late โ€™80s, then, the notion that many, many day care workers went into the field only to sate their Sadean lusts for small children, and that schools were places fraught with sexual โ€˜stranger danger,โ€™ and that childish innocence was under unprecedented assault from the forces of evil, had sufficient credibility to darken the nightmares of mothers and fathers across the country.โ€

โ€“ From โ€œAgainst Innocence: The truth about child abuse and the truth about childrenโ€ย by Margaret Talbot in The New Republic (March 15, 1999)

โ€œBy the late โ€™80s…โ€ indeed โ€“ exactly when the initial allegations were made in the Little Rascals case.

Whatever happened to Kelly’s ex-lawyer? This….

131108BeanNov. 8, 2013

While we await Gov. McCroryโ€™s decision on whether to promote Nancy Lamb toย district attorney, another key figure in the Little Rascals prosecution is stepping aside.

From the Elizabeth City Daily Advance:

EDENTON โ€“ Judge Chris Bean, chief district court judge in the 1st Judicial District, does not plan to seek re-election to another term.

Bean, who has been a judge for more than two decades, said recently he plans to step down when his current term ends in December 2014.

โ€œI have been doing this for 20-some years,โ€ Bean said. โ€œIt has been a fascinating career.โ€

Unmentioned by Judge Bean (or by the Advance, which seems to have purged Little Rascals from its memory)ย  is his deeply prejudicialย testimonyย against former client Bob Kelly.

Bean and Lamb have continued to share an immunity to just consequences. (Compare the enormity of the Little Rascals prosecution with the penny-anteย misconductย that typically brings about disbarment in North Carolina.)

Only their innocent victims โ€“ the Edenton Seven, the child witnesses โ€“ paid a price, and it was a high one indeed.

Supposed debunking of moral panic is itself spurious

140510HamiltonMay 10, 2014

โ€œThe failure to obtain convictions (in the McMartin Preschool case) combined with massive press coverage during and after, which โ€˜taughtโ€™ the American public various โ€˜lessonsโ€™ about child sex abuse, from child suggestibility to the notion that one must guard against โ€˜hysteriaโ€™ on such issues.

โ€œThe Witch-Hunt Narrativeย (by Ross Cheit) examines the evidence in the McMartin case as well as other widely reported cases, and gathers other sources on the phenomenon, to conclude that the McMartin case and reporting led to a paradigm of treating charges of abuse as a witch hunt rather than legitimate. This book goes a long way to debunk the paradigm, because there was compelling evidence for conviction….โ€

โ€“ From โ€œBook of the Weekโ€ by Marci Hamilton atย Hamilton and Griffin on Rights

Are we now witnessing the beginning of a belated backlash to the backlash over the โ€œsatanic ritual abuseโ€ prosecutions? Contrary to Professor Hamiltonโ€™s enthusiastic review, Ross Cheitโ€™s 544-page tome is riddled with inaccuracies, distortions and a shocking number of crucial omissions. Fortunately Debbie Nathan and the National Center for Reason and Justice have responded withย a devastating point-by-point refutationย โ€“ about which more later….

Update: I asked Hamilton, who teaches at Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University, to read Nathanโ€™s piece and reconsider. Her response: โ€œWe will have to agree to disagree.โ€